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EASTER (C): 2019

 

I wonder if it’s really possible for us to understand the incredible mix of emotions Jesus’ disciples, men and women, experienced on that first Easter morning.  We really have no frame of reference, have we?  Sure we may know the joy of finding a beloved pet we had lost and never expected to see again.  We may have experienced a reprieve from an apparent death sentence after successful medical treatment of a life threatening illness.  We might even have witnessed a miraculous cure and felt overwhelmed with gratitude to God that our prayers had been answered.  All of these things happen, if not routinely, then at least from time to time and exist within the realm of possibility.

But what Jesus’ friends and followers experienced on Easter morning and in the days thereafter was impossible.  They had seen him scourged to within an inch of his life, then crucified, then pierced through the heart with a soldier’s lance, finally laid dead in a tomb.  There is no record before or since of anybody’s having gone through all that, only to come back, scars, wounds and all, but fresh as a daisy, more alive than ever, capable of things no ordinary living person was ever capable of.

Is it any wonder that it took them some time to process what they were seeing and hearing and touching?  Are we shocked that they found it hard to believe their own eyes, that they thought maybe they were seeing a ghost or an apparition of some sort?  What they seemed to see wasn’t just amazing; it was impossible!  It took a little time to put it all together, to remember that with God all things are possible, that Jesus himself had predicted what they were experiencing, that the impossible had indeed happened, and that, after all, it wasn’t too good to be true, and they weren’t crazy.

We know they came to this improbable conclusion because instead of going back to fishing or tax-collecting and to their families, the Twelve, minus Judas, not long before trembling in fear and inclined to flee for their lives, each began to preach Jesus risen from the dead, to Jews, Romans, anyone who would listen, no matter how hostile the audience.  Each had years and decades to change his mind, to say it had all been a tragic mistake, but none did.  All but John, the youngest, died martyrs’ deaths.  John died in exile in his nineties on the Isle of Patmos.  

Moreover, what they taught about sex and marriage, love of enemies, and the dignity of the poor was unlike anything anyone had ever taught before.  It was received with the same incredulity and hostility as their message that Jesus was the Savior of the world, raised from the dead, seated at the right hand of the Father.

This risen Jesus appeared to Saul, a rabid persecutor of Christians, and turned him into St. Paul, zealous missionary and author of about one-third of the New Testament.  Over the centuries he appeared to others:  to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque to reveal the love of his Sacred Heart, to St. Faustina Kowalska to manifest the depth of the Divine Mercy.  He spoke to St. Francis of Assisi and changed his life.  He did the same to Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  He imprinted his wounds in the flesh of Padre Pio and his mark upon every people and civilization he touched.

It would have been understandable if, way back at the beginning, the Apostles, facing an immense, powerful, often brutal Roman Empire opposed to everything they stood for, had slinked away and gone home to die in peace and quiet anonymity, but that’s not what happened.  What happened defies rational explanation.  It’s impossible.  But with God all things are possible:  that Jesus rose from the dead, that the Apostles freely gave their lives to him, even unto martyrdom, that the Church Jesus founded is still here after two thousand years, in spite of human weakness and wickedness, within the Church and without, that we, poor sinners though we may be, are destined to live forever in Christ.

On this Easter morning, think about all that God in Jesus Christ has done for us.  Think about what we should do for him.  God bless and keep you all.  I wish you a blessed and very happy Easter.

GOOD FRIDAY (c) 2019

 

The devil is called by a number of richly deserved disparaging names in scripture:  the father of lies, the murderer, the destroyer, the accuser.  Not a nice guy!  He has no good will towards anybody, because he fancies himself a god, and his idea of god is one who lords it over everybody.

The Cross of Christ is the great remedy to the lies and accusations of the devil.  The father of lies, the accuser, would like us to believe we count for nothing, that we are meaningless, unloved specks in a vast purposeless universe.  Jesus, from the Cross, tells us what God thinks we are worth:  We are worth his dying for us, for each as if each were the only.

The accuser says we are miserable, rotten sinners, an offense to God and the universe, that we are despicable and unforgivable.  As usual, the devil wraps his lies in just enough truth to deceive us.  From his Cross, Jesus forgives the very ones who nailed him to the Cross, and in doing so reveals the Heart of the Father, who is always willing to forgive his prodigal sons and daughters.

The accuser taunts us in our suffering, whispering that there is no God or, if there is, that he doesn’t care about us, that he’s above and beyond all such concerns.  Jesus shows us God united to us in our suffering, taking the worst the devil and foolish and wicked human beings can dish out, telling us that he understands our pain and our questionings and that he is with us to help us bear our crosses and to see that they, like his, lead to new and eternal life.

The accuser mocks our faith and fuels our doubts, insinuating that when we die there is only oblivion, or worse, eternity with him.  Jesus tells the repentant thief crucified beside him that they’ll be together in paradise that very day, and that we too will live with him forever, if we repent of our sins and reach out to him in love as he reaches out to us.

Did you see the pictures of the interior of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris filled with smoke and flames, and there at the center of it all a large cross visible over the altar?  As St. Joan of Arc was being burned at the stake, she cried out, “Hold the cross high, that I may see it through the flames.”  Isn’t it strange that an instrument of torture and death should be a source of consolation and hope in the midst of so much pain and tragedy?

But Jesus said, “When I am lifted up, I will draw everyone to myself.”  He was referring to the Cross, not the Resurrection, and for two millennia now, people have looked to the Cross as a sign of God’s love and of his solidarity with us in suffering, and they’ve been filled with hope, and love for Jesus and others who suffer.  

Sometimes the Cross of Christ is seen as the cruel imposition of a vengeful, demanding Father.  This is all wrong.  Christ didn’t have to die; he chose to die.  Although in his humanness he recoiled from the Cross, he embraced it, trusting in the Father, knowing that his task, being the Son, was to reveal the Heart of the Father, a Heart willing to go to any length to save us, knowing that if he let the devil have his way with him, he would give the lie to the lies of the deceiver.

We worship not an accuser but a Forgiver; not a destroyer but a Creator; not a murderer but a Life-giver, a Life-restorer; not a liar but Truth himself!  

HOLY THURSDAY (c) 2019

 

There was a lot of stuff going on that first Holy Thursday, some of it detailed in this evening’s gospel, lots mentioned elsewhere but not included in tonight’s liturgy.  There was the preparation for the Last Supper in the Upper Room, the foot washing, the institution of the priesthood, the first Mass, Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial and Judas’ betrayal, a long discourse that takes up five chapters in John’s gospel that includes Jesus’ prayer that his followers all be one as he and the Father are one, and his command that we love one another as he loves us.  This, by the way, is why Holy Thursday is often called Maundy Thursday, especially by our Protestant brothers and sisters.  Maundy is the Old English for mandate, i.e. Jesus’ command (mandate) that we love as he loves.

After the Last Supper, there’s the walk to the Garden of Gethsemane as Psalms are sung, Jesus’ prayer in the Garden, his betrayal and arrest, and the miracle of healing he performed for the servant whose ear Peter cut off in anger at the way Jesus was being treated, the interrogation by Annas then Caiaphas, Peter’s denial, and Jesus’ being taken to Pilate.  Altogether a pretty full and mostly unpleasant day, but let’s focus this evening on the positive.

The great Frank Sheed in his little gem of a book, A Map of Life, argues right at the start that if we don’t know the purpose of a thing, we’re likely to misuse it.  So, e.g., he says, if in ignorance I use a razor to saw wood, I won’t saw much wood, and I’ll soon ruin the razor.  What, he asks, is the purpose of human life?  If we don’t know its purpose, we’re liable to misuse, waste, or ruin it.  On any number of occasions Jesus tells us the purpose of our lives.  We’re made to love God and one another, he says, not as an add-on after all the other things we do in life, but as the very reason for life and for all the other things we do in life.  If they don’t serve our loving God and others, they’re beside the point.

He tells us he came to serve, not to be served, and that if he, the Master serves, so much more must we servants serve.  He warns that whatever we do or fail to do to and for each other, we do or fail to do to and for him.  When the old Baltimore Catechism put this all in a nutshell, it said simply that we are made to know, love, and serve God in this life, so as to be happy with him forever in the next.

The liturgies of Holy Week teach ritually what the love of God and neighbor looks like, how difficult it may prove to live that love, and where that love ultimately leads.  On Holy Thursday, we’re given by Jesus what was to his disciples a shocking example of humility and service.  As the Letter to the Philippians puts it:  “Jesus took the part of a slave,” stooping to wash the feet of his inferiors.  In a rare poetic moment, Mother Teresa of Calcutta wrote:  “Love has a hem to her garment that reaches the very dust.  It sweeps the stains from the streets and lanes, and because it can, it must.”  In other words, love serves.  We’re made to serve God and one another, helping each other all along the way to heaven.

Because Jesus knows this doesn’t come naturally to us, at least not always, he gives us not just an example, but himself in the Eucharist, to unite us more deeply to God and to strengthen us in our service to one another.  And, again, this isn’t an afterthought.  Life isn’t all about fun:  partying , sports, whatever—that’s what I work for, that’s what I live for, and once in awhile when I feel or see the need, I help others and give a nod to God.  No!  Loving God and one another is the purpose of life.  Everything else is for the sake of that, and it’s crucial to get this right.

Jesus went to a heck of a lot of trouble to make the point.  More on that tomorrow.  For now, we give thanks for his example and for his giving himself to us as food for the journey.  And I give special thanks to him for the gift of the priesthood, without which neither you nor I would have the Eucharist.